So you’ve made up your mind. You’re finally going to take some time out of your busy life and see Europe. Your bags are packed, your itinerary planned, your bank account filled. But are you truly prepared? Here are 10 things you might not be expecting when you step off the plane across the Atlantic.
Some of these are not negatives about Europe, so much as negatives for us from the US. For example, once you arrive in Europe you will realize you’ve been being fed plastic instead of real cheese your whole life. I absolutely love Europe, and it’s one of my favorite destinations. This list is meant to poke a little fun and point out some things that struck me as strange or sometimes annoying. Enjoy!
1. You Have to Pay to use Toilets This certainly isn’t the case everywhere in Europe, and it has improved over the years, but it is still common in many places, especially along roadside rest stops and near train or bus stations. The cost is usually around €1-2 to enter a “public” restroom when this is the case. Imagine the angry citizens if this was attempted in America!
2. Banks are Never Open I have been traveling in Europe for two months now, and I’ve seen maybe two or three banks that are open. Sometimes the hours on the door will show that they should be open, yet still they are not. I still have not figured out this complex mystery and will most likely forever live in ignorance. I’ve come to the conclusion that bank employees in Europe must get paid and exorbitantly high hourly wage, and work only three hours a week. That last part was a joke, but seriously. Good luck.
3. Siesta! I knew this before I came to Europe, as you may as well, but I wasn’t prepared for the seriousness of it over here. Depending on the area, usually from 1-5pm or noon-4, almost every business in town is closed. Everyone just stops what they’re doing in the middle of the day and takes a nap. There are noise ordinances in effect in many places because of this, and we were told not to play music during Siesta hours. I always seem to forget about Siesta even though I’ve been used to it for a couple months now. I’ll walk through town to go get something and BAM! Siesta strikes again!
4. The Food is Better Most people would guess this, but I don’t mean food at restaurants, etc. I mean the food in general. Europe has banned the use of GMOs, and most of their food is locally-grown and organic. The bread is made in local bakeries, the cheese is local; almost all of it. You will notice a big difference! I have been very impressed in this category. You will notice a different in sweets as well. Americans tend to pack sugar into everything like no one’s business, while Europeans tend to take a healthier approach to cuisine.
5. Most People don’t like Americans, but Embrace Much of Our Culture This one continues to leave me perplexed. People tend to generally dislike Americans, usually based on broad stereotypes as I’ve found; having much to do with our government’s greed-influenced decision making methods, gun culture, environmental recklessness, the list goes on. It seems like everyone’s favorite topic of discussion is our government or guns. Guns especially. They simply don’t understand it. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still many who see people as people, and give a chance to anyone, but even most of them are surprised that they like you. Seriously, people have said that to me on more than one occasion. The part of all of this that confuses me to no end is the fact that mainstream culture in Europe, is obsessed with American stuff. You see people wearing American flag t-shirts and hats, which apparently is in fashion right now, American music and movies are everywhere, and everyone is obsessed with Los Angeles, New York and Miami. T-shirts, hats, all of it: “New York City” with some kind of creative art design around it. It’s hard for me to comprehend. I leave Europeans with this message: I have felt prejudiced on many, many occasions during my stay here. I don’t want to compare it to racism because I don’t feel it’s anywhere near a fair comparison to the hardships minorities have faced, but that’s what the feeling is like for me. To be immediately judged as a person based on a broad stereotype encompassing an entire nation. I choose friends based on them as a person, not what their government does. How many people even like what their government does? Give us a chance! You will find that a lot of traveling Americans tend to be more carefree, open-minded individuals; not anywhere near the stereotype you are basing these prejudices upon. Love you guys 🙂
6. Everything is More Expensive I mean everything. Most of you probably already know this if you’re planning a trip to Europe, but I want you to very seriously prepare yourselves. It’s not just that everything is more expensive, but also that everything costs money. I’ve mentioned the bathrooms. It’s not just that things cost more, it’s that nothing is free. Take McDonald’s, for example. In the US, you can get free WiFi at any McDonald’s location. Yes, it’s “free” here, but there are strings. You have to be able to receive a text on a cell phone and type it into their login screen, and then you only get an hour of internet access. Not to mention, you don’t get free condiments. It’s generally 20 cents to get a packet of ketchup. No free refills on drinks anywhere. Things like this. Also, everything is a higher price in Euro compared to dollars, and then you need to factor in the money you lose when exchanging currency. It adds up quick! Make sure you’re prepared for this, especially on longer trips. If you’re on a shoestring budget, make sure to check out my article: Extreme Budget Travel Guide To Europe.
7. Air Conditioning Is Non-existent There are two things that most likely cause this: One, the fact that most buildings in Europe were constructed before A/C units were invented, and two, that people are genuinely concerned with efficiency and environmental responsibility. Both are pretty valid reasons in my opinion, although as a spoiled American I sure do miss walking into a nice cool building. It’s not just the lack of a central air unit that will cause you to sit in a pool of sweat virtually everywhere, but the fact that for some reason, possibly associated with the latter of the reasons listed above, people don’t want to use fans. They have them, but they won’t use them. They want them off all the time. I’ve now gotten used to the heat in European summer, but it took quite a while to acclimate!
8. Power Outlets are a Rare Phenomenon The cause of this falls under the first reason for a lack of A/C: Most buildings were built before electricity was invented. You will find that many hotel or hostel rooms have only one plug for the entire room. In public places it’s very difficult to locate a power source. Even in newer establishments such as fast-food restaurants, you’re sometimes still out of luck. I highly recommend grabbing the Outlets To Go Powerstrip by Monster. That little thing has been a lifesaver to me. Don’t forget your European travel adapter as well!
9. Europeans are More Educated as a Whole than Americans What I mean by that is, the common European tends to be more educated than the common American, and it shows. They have excellent public transportation systems, their cars are almost all very environmentally friendly, their food is much healthier, they still use local stores for everything–eliminating the eradication of mom-and-pop stores as we’ve seen happen in the US–almost all of them speak two or more languages and they tend to understand political ins-and-outs better than the typical US citizen. When you tell someone about the healthcare system in America, they are usually flabbergasted. It’s incomprehensible to them. I contribute this to the school systems, but surely there is more to it than that. I must give credit when credit is due, and here I shall. Sorry America, but here is somewhere you need to get your shit together! I won’t pretend like I know how to do that, but I do know we can do better.
10. Europeans, on Average, Seem to Dislike Work of Any Kind As I said, I will give credit when credit is due; but here is where Europeans fall short and Americans thrive. I’m not even talking about the Siesta here, although that does play a big part in my opinion on this. They just don’t usually make any kind of extra effort at their jobs, it seems. I will be careful here not to include all Europeans, as surely everyone is different and there are many who work their asses off. However, in our experience this has been few and far between. This can cause you setbacks sometimes; as I’ve discovered in my adventure at the Poste Italiane (Italian Post Office) when someone wouldn’t put in a little extra effort to help me out. Actually, to just do his job. The guy seriously told me he thinks my package is there, but he wouldn’t even look it up unless I had some type of special email, nor would he make a call to figure out why I hadn’t received the email. I do accept that this may have something to do with the fact that I’m a foreigner who speaks very poor Italian. I have heard from many Europeans: “You Americans are hard workers.” I have found this to be true, and it’s something that I take pride in.
This list may be somewhat controversial or provocative, but remind yourself, that this is a list of negatives for the most part. There are many positives of European travel! You will have a great time, provided you travel with an open mind and an acceptance of the ways of other cultures and societies. Many European ideologies make much more sense than their American counterparts, we’re simply not used to them. I have loved the people I’ve met on this journey, and Europe as a whole. I will admit that we’ve had many hardships on this trip, but almost every single one of them can be attributed to our lack of sufficient travel funds. Remember to provide others with the courtesy that you yourself expect: Don’t judge people based on broad stereotypes. Learn to see people as people not subjects of predefined mannerisms. Be prepared both financially and socially for your travel, and you will LOVE Europe!! I ask that any comments on this article be civil and respectful. Peace and happy travels, -Tom